By Katherine Randall
Communications Coordinator, JCUA
Anthony Holmes has trouble sleeping at night. He has nightmares and often wakes up in a cold sweat. Holmes spent 30 years in prison for a murder he said he didn’t commit. And though Holmes has physically left prison, his mind remains trapped in thoughts of the torture he endured at the hands of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.
“Jon Burge shocked me and suffocated me and forced me to admit to a murder I didn’t do,” said Holmes. “He tried to kill me. It leaves a growing, burning feeling. I have nightmares and see myself falling into a deep hole and I have no one to get me out.”
Holmes was one of several witnesses to testify at Burge’s Jan. 20 sentencing hearing. And though the prosecutors are pushing for a sentence of at least 30 years, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow only extended Burge’s suggested sentence of 15 to 21 months in prison to 21 to 27 months.
“That’s a slap in the face to everybody that was in that station house being tortured by Burge,” said Dickie Gaines, a longtime Chicago community activist and friend to several Burge torture survivors. “I think his sentence should be a maximum sentence,” he said.
Zakiyyah Muhammad, another community activist close to several of the torture victims, said she would be okay with Burge’s light sentence under one condition.
“If it can be a life of hell and torture then it can be okay because that’s what Burge put hundreds of men and women through,” she said.
Melvin Jones, another torture survivor who testified at Burge’s hearing, said he was still going through such a life of hell and torture.
“It comes back in my everyday life. It comes back in my dreams. It comes back every day I walk this earth,” said Jones.
In 1982 Jones was arrested on suspicion of murder and brought to the Area 2 police station where Burge was working.
As Jones stood on the stand at the first day of Burge’s sentencing hearing (Jan. 20), he recalled incidents he said forever changed his view of police officers.
Jones said he was shocked three times by Burge with an electrical device. He said a gun was put to his head and that he remembered hearing the trigger click.
“He [Burge] said ‘I’ll blow your black head off,’” said Jones. “I felt frightened—like I was gonna die,” he said.
After his experience with Burge, Jones said he felt the police could no longer be trusted.
During his testimony, Howard Saffold, who served as a Chicago police officer from 1965 to 1991, spoke of the importance of keeping police officers accountable.
After witnessing the impact of police misconduct and brutality on different communities, Saffold helped found the Afro-American Patrolman’s League, a group with the goal of bringing about police reform and improving relationships between the community and the police, and between black and white police officers.
“In a community where crime is high, it’s important that police maintain a good relationship with the community,” said Saffold. “There needs to be a community of trust,” he said.
Trust that may never be fully restored for many of Burge’s torture victims.
“I still get nervous when I see police,” said Holmes. That’s why I no longer live in the city (Chicago).”
Holmes said he’s lost more than his sleep because of his experience with Burge. While in prison several of Holmes’ family members passed away, his wife divorced him and he lost almost all connection with his 11 children. Now all he has left is a question: “Why?”
“What I wanted to ask Burge was why would you do this? You were supposed to be the law,” said Holmes.
On Jan. 21, Judge Lefkow sentenced Burge to 4 1/2 in prison, plus three years probation and alcohol treatment.